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Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy

Improving the sustainability of the food chain

EU Food Safety Day 2011

Brussels, 15 September 2011

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here at the Brussels Food Bank on the occasion of European Food Safety Day 2011.

Let me start by thanking you for your hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to see for myself how a food bank works.

As European Commissioner for Health, Food Safety and Consumers, one of the key tasks of my services is to find the best ways to improve the sustainability of the food chain – with a strong focus on the issues of food waste and food packaging.

These are two very important aspects in the wider context of resource efficiency, the financial crisis, global food security and combating hunger.

Let me highlight some key figures:

An EU funded study published in 2010 estimated that in Europe every year about 89 million tonnes of food are wasted.

Most of this waste (about 61%) could be avoided – and indeed could have been eaten if it had been better managed. For example:

  • if consumers had planned their shopping better;

  • if retailers had managed their stocks better; or

  • if leftovers from restaurants were taken home.

Wasting so much food is unacceptable from an environmental, economic and ethical point of view.

The same study estimated that without additional prevention policies or activities, food waste in Europe is expected to rise to about 126 million tonnes by 2020.

I need hardly say that action must be taken to halt and reverse this worrying trend!

AND we already can see first steps in the right direction!

SEVEN Member States (and Belgium is included in this group) have recently embraced a range of food waste prevention initiatives:

  • awareness campaigns;

  • information tools (such as guides and brochures);

  • logistical improvements (for example, stock management improvements for retailers);

  • and also, of course, food redistribution programmes.

All these initiatives demonstrate that despite the current relatively low level of awareness, interest in this issue is growing throughout Europe.

However, these prevention activities are mostly small scale and un-connected. We therefore recommended the identification of best practices and the sharing of experiences at EU level.

AND also at European level we are proactive in addressing this important issue! To this end we are working:

  • with retailers in the framework of the EU Retail Forum on sustainability;

  • with the EU Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Round Table;

  • with the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain; and of course

  • with the Member States, where we are encouraging all 27 of them to become fully involved in this process.

On the specific issue of food banks, let me underline that it is worth exploring together the following issues:

  • HOW more food near its expiry date could reach the food banks?

  • HOW can we encourage more retailers to make their food surpluses available to food banks instead of throwing them away?

  • AND HOW can we make the consumers aware of the extent of the food waste problem, its costs and impacts?

For example, consumers need to understand how to interpret information regarding the different terms "use-by" and "best-before" dates, thus enabling them to avoid throwing away food that is still edible.

Minimising food waste is a challenging task that requires the full commitment and co-operation of all actors along the food chain and public authorities to reduce environmental, economic and ethical impacts.

Everyone must be made aware of their responsibility in this regard, and encouraged and mobilised to produce and consume safe and nutritious food, with the minimum of waste.

Let me finish by highlighting the important role that food banks, such as this one, play in food waste prevention and let me congratulate the Brussels Food Bank on its excellent work.

I hope very much it will go from strength to strength in future, as the drive to reduce food waste gathers momentum.

Thank you.

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